The house was rumored to have been the site of an ancient burial ground, a place where the fierce and valiant warriors of the Village Hidden in the Leaves were laid to rest after their service to their people. The current occupants complained of loud knocking and scraping sounds heard in the hallway, as well as the figure of a girl, barely a young woman, with long blond hair who sat and looked out the window.
As a newly minted paranormal investigator, Hideki was somewhat suspicious of this claim, thinking that the sounds could be attributed to a more realistic cause, such as an old furnace or a disruptive pet. Nevertheless, he unpacked his equipment carefully and was in the process of moving the last of the wires from the truck when the hairs on the back of his neck prickled.
He turned slowly, and nearly started at the sight of a girl watching him, clothed in purple and bandages, a long curtain of blond hair neatly pulled back from her mournful eyes.
Eyes still on this visitor, he switched on the camera and set it on small table beside him.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice wavering only slightly.
"No one important, or else they wouldn't have built this house here, would they?" her voice was soft yet still possessed an indistinct quality that was incredibly familiar to him, but he couldn't remember where he had heard it.
"Why are you here?" he said, fiddling with a recorder.
"I've got nowhere else to be," she replied, still watching him with pale eyes.
"When did you die, why are you haunting this place?"
"I told you, no one important, though I haven't been causing any of the racket that's been going on around here. To answer your second question, I watch the people and wonder." She sighed very quietly. "There have been so many people, in such a short amount of time."
Perplexed, he continues questioning this strange spirit (who is so familiar yet why is she so familiar?). "Who have you seen here, how many people have you watched?"
She shrugs transparent shoulders.
"How should I know," she replies nonchalantly. "Some come, some go. They all die."
"Why don't you care what happens to them?" He feels himself compelled to question her.
A thin brow was raised towards him.
"Why do you think I should care?"
"Life's a funny thing," she said as she slid down the banister and floated across the ground. "Living I mean, not something that's alive. Everyone has their own opinion about how to go about it properly."
A cold chill enveloped him as the girl leaned forward.
"What is right and wrong, what is good or bad, those types of things," she leaned and stared out the window, not noticing how her hands went through the panes of glass as she looked outside. He was perplexed.
The world is dark and spinning, and figures shoot past, pursued by screams that fill the air. One bloody finger touches his forehand, and he recoils, stumbling over soft lumps and pieces of human flesh.
He was back in the room again, and the girl is looking with her pale eyes into his own. Her hands are dripping onto the wood floor.
"I used to think so, and then I did terrible things. And then I died." Her hands are clean, the phantoms were gone and the entire house sat in its stillness. Smiling bitterly, she continued. "Imagine my surprise after I caught a knife in my belly and dying in the arms of my friend to wake up and not be burning in agony because of what I did."
Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Whatever else I thought was true or not, the one thing I believed was that I was going to pay, and then I was relieved that I didn't have to. And then I had to watch both of them live without me, and I suffered without them. I was selfish, and I wished they could join me. And then Shikamaru did, but he didn't stay, he only comes, and then he leaves me alone. And Chouji went on, and I looked for him, but I couldn't find him anywhere."
Those eyes were boring into his own, and he could see that despair. "What kind of person am I?"
"It makes you human," a new voice, gravelly and exasperated, offered. His head snapped around as a tall and lanky man appeared next to the girl. His hair was gathered into a bushy knot atop his head, and his eyes were shrewd and observant. "I know you like to think otherwise Ino, but you are a human being, a troublesome one at that."
A sudden spark entered her eyes as she whirled to face the man beside her.
"What about all those people Shikamaru," she hissed. "What about all betrayal and turmoil that I caused? Why wasn't I punished for that? What about him, and you, I just left you both. How can I live with myself?"
The man tilted back his head and turned his eyes towards her shaking form. He quirked his lip into a small smirk.
"Why live with yourself? You're dead. Accept it. Reflect on it. Let it go."
Ino let out an undignified snort. "You've certainly become more of a philosopher than I remember."
Shikamaru pressed his mouth into a severe line across his hard jaw and narrowed his beady eyes against. "Some things change a person Ino; I would think that you and I would know that better than most."
Her eyes softened as she reached forward to place her hand over his heart. "I know," she replied softly. "A pity we couldn't live forever, we would've learned so much more about each other."
He held her hand in his own, and quietly shook his head. "Not learned more, realized more."
Hideki felt his head begin to throb. It felt as though his heart was being pulled towards these two phantoms of the past, a past that was filled with strange and seemingly familiar images and emotions. He belonged here, with them. He was sure of it. His heart hurt too much for it to be otherwise.
Maybe this is the price of our mortality, he thought to himself as he gazed at these remnants of a past, his past. We had so little time to understand and they've (my friends he remembers, my teammates, my family) had even less, and after all these lifetimes and continually repeating cycles of humanity, they still are stuck there, at the moment where it ended. We ended.
I will change that, he vowed. Slowly, he brought his hand up to rest on Shikamaru's shoulder, the other to the small of Ino's back. Gently, he pushed them together, and they stared at him, slowly comprehending the meaning behind his actions.
"We should let go, shouldn't we," whispered Ino.
"You always knew what to do," murmured Shikamaru.
The two clasped hands, and turned to meet him.
"You learned how to move on, didn't you?" Ino asked. "That's why you're on that side while we're here. You wanted to show me how to move on, right?"
He nodded in assent, and then her eyes flew to the other man beside her, who was shifting in her grip.
"You planned this, didn't you," her voice was incredulous as it rang through the halls. "You knew, didn't you? You were the one who knocked the walls and caused him to come here, weren't you?"
His eyes spoke for his tongue.
She rested her head against his shoulder and looked as though a burden had been lifted off her shoulders.
"You were always the best at strategy." Her eyes opened, and she looked at the new man who was her other old friend. "And after living without both of us, you learned how to accept this. You were the only one who could, you know. I don't think either of us would have done it."
Shikamaru turned to her and motioned towards a door which hadn't been there before.
"Can you go now? 'Cause I have been waiting for a really long time, you troublesome woman."
Ino threw her golden head back and laughed. The sound echoed across the hall, across time and space, across the limitations of mortality and the infinite space of beyond. She stepped towards Hideki, Chouji, her family, and kissed his cheek.
"We'll be waiting for you," she said over her shoulder and Shikamaru opened the door. "You'll come find us this time, right?"
"Now I'll know where to look," he responded as the two figures walked into the light.